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---November 13, 1991---
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Above all else, corporate executives want us to believe they are civilized people who mean well. Perhaps they are, but it doesn't seem to matter. Take the case of DuPont.

DuPont is one of world's leading firms with 1989 sales of $35.2 billion. Founded in 1802, DuPont operates 85 chemical plants in the U.S. and many others overseas. They have 143,000 employees worldwide. Their slogan says they produce "better things for better living" and during the past year or so they've been running an award-winning TV ad with penguins and seals clapping, and whales and dolphins dancing, all celebrating DuPont's environmental record. But there's a deep and abiding dark side to this leading corporate citizen.[1]

It was 1974 when two chemists in California published a technical paper predicting that certain chemicals invented by DuPont (chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs) would float upward in the atmosphere and begin to destroy the Earth's ozone shield, 10 to 15 miles up in the sky. The Earth's ozone shield is a thin layer of peculiar oxygen molecules (O3 instead of normal O2) which filter out deadly ultraviolet rays streaming in from the Sun. People have known for a long time that ultraviolet light is a powerful germ-killing disinfectant. Scientists now understand that life on land was impossible until the Earth's ozone shield developed 450 million years ago. Until the ozone shield developed, life had to stay in the sea because ultraviolet radiation killed anything that ventured up onto the beach.

For these reasons, scientists in 1974 knew that loss of Earth's ozone shield would be a real catastrophe threatening to make Earth uninhabitable for humans. The nation's scientific establishment soon began studying the situation. By 1976 the National Academy of Sciences (NAS)--the most prestigious body of scientists in America--announced their conclusion that CFC use was most likely going to lead to a 7% loss of the earth's ozone shield--a chillingly large change in a fundamentally important ecosystem.[2] DuPont said, "Prove it" and continued CFC production, full steam ahead. In 1979 NAS revised its estimate to a 16.5% ozone loss. That year DuPont produced another 450 million pounds of CFCs and distributed them into the environment. From 1974 through 1985 DuPont's CFC production held steady at 450 million gallons per year and its corporate position on ozone loss remained unchanged: nothing has been proven, full steam ahead.

Meanwhile NASA (U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration) scientists were looking for measurable loss of Earth's ozone shield. Since 1970, NASA had had satellites (Nimbus 4 and later Nimbus 7) 600 miles above the earth peering down making ozone measurements. But the satellites reported no ozone loss.

Then in 1985 a British scientist named Joe Farman announced he'd recorded a 40% loss of ozone over the south pole and he revealed that his data had begun showing ozone depletion as early as 1977. Farnam had a tiny research program (funded by the British government at $18,000 per year--yes, 18 thousand, not 18 million) that had operated an instrument at the South pole for 25 years measuring ultraviolet radiation striking the ground.

The news stunned NASA scientists whose multi-million-dollar satellites had still found nothing. It turned out NASA's satellites had been collecting data every year showing an ozone hole growing ominously, but NASA scientists had programmed their computers to ignore low readings because they "knew" such readings resulted from faulty instruments, not from a real ozone hole. They had the data but they had programmed their computers to ignore it. After Farnam published his findings, our rocket scientists reviewed many years of Nimbus data and found that, yes, the ozone hole had been visible for years, but they had simply missed it. By the time NASA finally found it, the ozone hole was much larger than the area of the United States and taller than Mount Everest. It was such a huge hole that it would have been visible from as far away as planet Mars if anyone had been there to look.

Each year since 1985, the ozone depletion problem has gotten worse. Many scientists have created mathematical models to predict the rate at which ozone loss will occur. All such models have been wrong. Each year the measured losses have been greater than mathematical models predicted.

Just last month the world received three new items of bad news about loss of the ozone shield. A panel of 80 scientists, gathered under the auspices of the United Nations, announced that ozone destruction is proceeding three times as fast as it did during the 1970s, and they said they expect the accelerated rate to hold throughout the 1990s.[3] No one had predicted this destructive acceleration. The same group also announced ozone loss can now be measured not only over the south pole but also, much more ominously, over the mid-latitudes where the U.S. mainland sits. And, finally, they said ozone loss can now, for the first time, be measured during spring and summer, when the Sun's rays are strongest, when most people are outdoors and when many people are intentionally basking in the Sun.

In April, 1991, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency tripled its earlier estimate of the number of skin cancers that ozone loss will cause in U.S. citizens. During the next 50 years, EPA said in April, ozone loss will cause 12 million skin cancers, causing 200,000 deaths. Worldwide, a billion (a thousand million) skin cancers are expected to result from ozone depletion, including 17 million deaths over the next 50 years. And these figures will need to be revised upward in light of the U.N. scientists' October revelations. It is now clear that DuPont scientists have unleashed a human catastrophe that dwarfs all previous chemical disasters. And it is also clear that DuPont's corporate policy is to continue to produce killer chemicals as long as possible, resisting all efforts to bring the earliest achievable end to this nightmare.

This year DuPont is still pumping 450 million pounds of CFCs into the atmosphere, full steam ahead. In 1989, DuPont conducted a campaign opposing CFC phase-out legislation in the U.S. Senate. In 1990 DuPont Chief Executive Officer Ed Woolard said, "In my opinion it has not been proven that CFCs are harmful to ozone...." In 1991 DuPont executives took pains to block a shareholder resolution that called for a phaseout of CFC manufacture by 1995.

Because of rising social pressure, DuPont has said it intends to phase out CFCs but the timetable remains in doubt. Meanwhile DuPont has already built factories to produce CFC substitutes called HCFCs. Unfortunately, HCFCs also deplete the ozone shield, though more slowly than CFCs.

In addition, one of the new CFC substitutes, HCFC-123, has now been found to cause tumors on the pancreas and testicles of rats. DuPont's position is that the tumors on rats' testicles didn't actually KILL any of the rats, and besides humans wouldn't ordinarily be exposed to the chemical in concentrations as high as the rats encountered. DuPont is now aggressively marketing HCFC-123. Full steam ahead....

What must be clear from all this is that corporations like DuPont cannot act responsibly because they have no real incentive to do so. Furthermore, government, even if staffed by intelligent, well-meaning people including large numbers of rocket scientists, cannot curtail the blindness and hubris of a multinational juggernaut like DuPont whose only legally-defined mission is to return a profit to shareholders.

The world's best hope is a citizen's movement bent on reforming the heart of the beast: the corporate charter. The charter is the legal document that gives a company like DuPont the right to exist. If its charter contained language decreeing that it must "Do no harm," DuPont today would stand in real danger of losing its right to exist. This, more than anything else, would get the attention of corporate executives and civilize their behavior.[4]
                                                                         --Peter Montague, Ph.D.
[1] Jack Doyle, HOLD THE APPLAUSE; A CASE STUDY OF CORPORATE ENVIRONMENTALISM AS PRACTICED AT DUPONT (Washington, DC: Friends of the Earth, August, 1991). $5.00 plus $3.00 shipping from: Carla Gaffey, Friends of the Earth, 218 D Street, SE, Washington, DC 20003; phone (202) 544-2600.


[3] William K. Stevens, "Summertime Harm To Shield of Ozone Detected Over U.S.," NEW YORK TIMES October 23, 1991, pgs. A1, A11. See also R. Monastersky, "Summer ozone loss detected for the first time," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 140 (November 2, 1991), pg. 278, and R. Monastersky, "Antarctic ozone hole sinks to a record low," SCIENCE NEWS Vol. 140 (October 19, 1991), pgs. 244-245.

[4] Richard Grossman and Frank Adams, "Dog Days at Company Headquarters," E MAGAZINE Vol. 2, No. 6 (Nov./Dec., 1991), pgs. 46-47. Interested in ways to civilize corporate behavior? Contact Grossman and Adams at P.O. Box 3242, Boston, MA 02101.

Descriptor terms: corporations; dupont; cfcs; ozone depletion; nasa; skin cancer; hcfcs; corporate charters;

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